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Message from a Young Iranian - This Is Not Democracy

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Votes uncounted. Freedom of speech threatened. Information censored. Violence against peaceful protesters. This is not democracy.

At Rock the Vote, we've received thousands of messages from young people across the United States expressing their support for the young Iranians fighting for a free and fair election. You can add your message of support by going to and we will share selected messages on Huffington Post in the coming days.

But today we want to share the story of one young Iranian-American named Donny who voted in the Iranian election. For the safety of his family living in Iran, we have not used Donny's full name or other specific details about his life.

Donny's Story

The culture of fear perpetuated by the Iranian government is nothing new and is the primary force in keeping citizens inside and outside of Iran silent for so long.

I can remember being chastised by my father years ago for signing an Amnesty International letter regarding the human rights of prisoners of thought in Iran; he told me that if I wanted to continue visiting Iran as an adult I had to be careful about where I used my name.

Born and raised in the United States, the idea of lending my name to causes was always rather inconsequential. With the right to free speech guaranteed under the first amendment, saying I support human rights has no implications for me and my family's well-being. In Iran the case is quite different.

Voting in the 2009 Iranian elections was the second election I took part in, after the 2008 Presidential election in the United States. In both elections I voted for reformist candidates, believing that they would take the country in a direction I would most like to see.

My family as a whole tends to support liberal candidates in American politics, but when it comes to Iranian ideologies, we are a diverse group. A devout Muslim, my father voted for Ahmadinejad in both elections believing him to be the candidate most capable of maintaining an Islamic state. My grandmother votes with her pocketbook; my mother chooses not to vote because she does not live in Iran and therefore feels that her opinions should not influence a country whose policies she is not subject to.

We are not royalists and our opinions vary on the efficacy of the theocracy in Iran. On the eve of the election, tensions were high in our house as we debated the merits of each candidate and where we hoped the direction of Iran was headed.

I remember feeling excited more than anything as we left for our expatriate polling place the next day, knowing my family in Iran were doing the same at their local polling spots; I had not felt that invested in an election ever before.

While President Obama's election was a historical moment, I had never really been engaged in the election like my classmates at school. Initially supporting Hillary Clinton, I was reluctant to warm up to any other candidate after her loss. But here I was, driving a long distance to vote in an election for a country I did not reside in, influencing policy that had little effect on me. And yet, I felt like I had to be there. I had to go into that conference center and cast my vote, gesturing to those who knew me in America as well as Iran that yes, I am an Iranian, and yes, I care about what happens to the millions who live in a country that I also call home. When I think back to all the time I have spent in Iran, the memories that remain with me are the Nowruz celebrations with loved ones, the long lunches taken in orchards just North of Shiraz and visiting the haunts of my father's childhood. I choose to vote in Iranian elections because I am claiming my part of the idea of Iran just as much as the physical place.

As returns began to trickle in, the reality of what was happening began to dawn on all of us. We had a unique perspective on the unfolding events of last week: with a satellite available to anyone who can spare $150, we watched as IRIB announced the results of the election. I was reading blogs that would soon become my bread and butter and we were contacting family in Iran who were dumbfounded by such an apparent landslide. We made allegations that Ahmadinejad cheated, but such utterances were only half-hearted. Frustrated by the outcome of the vote, those of us who voted for Mousavi sought to console ourselves by ridiculing Ahmadinejad and venturing guesses that he just might have been crazy enough to rig the national election.

As hours turned into days, such jokes quickly became a troubling reality.

What I feel now, almost a week out, is excitement mixed with a real sense of fear. My cousin, a student at a University in Tehran, has yet to be reached. My father and grandmother can't reach many of our loved ones by phone or email. The family members we have been able to reach say they are not afraid but they avoid going into crowded public spaces and everyone just tries to keep close to home.

Amidst the chaos of what is happening to those I love in Iran, I constantly ask myself what would I be doing if I were there? Would I be in the streets, asking for my vote, or would I be at home, where my parents would no doubt be urging me to remain?

I don't think these are questions we as Westerners ever ask ourselves. After college I went straight to graduate school and began study. There are challenges unique to my path but there is also guilt: as a graduate student at an Ivy League university, the resources available to me are not available to 99% percent of the rest of the world.

How much do I take for granted? For me, a choice between liberty and death is a philosophical dilemma, a historical event, but never a necessary choice.

I support the uprising of frustrated men and women in Iran. And I understand why some are reluctant to act out. The choice is a difficult one; a choice that I count myself fortunate (though somewhat guilt-ridden) for not having to make.

All I can do from afar is be an actively engaged citizen and do my best to provide accurate, factual information to others. The confrontation between fear and frustration is what lies within the heart of each and every Iranian at this moment.

Fear usually wins; the protests of 1999 and 2003 prove this. When the furor and intensity in the hearts of frustrated men and women run out, the fear slowly creeps in and forces these brave individuals back into hiding.

As Americans, all we can do to prevent this is to provide the necessary outlets to those who continue the fight in Iran. Like a fire that dies without oxygen, the most damning action to those fighting for freedom in Iran is to deny them our focus and attention.

We must retweet, forward, and ask our media outlets to keep Iran in the discussion. They must choose their own fate, all we can do is give them the tools to sound off.


Give Iranians your focus and attention as Donny asks. Go to, sign a statement of support and send a message to a young Iranian today.